Media Circus Quiet as Trial of Norwegian Killer Winds Down

Anders Behring Breivik - P 2012
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The Oslo court is expected to issue its verdict against mass killer Anders Behring Breivik in July or August.

COLOGNE, Germany – When Norway’s self-confessed mass killer Anders Behring Breivik was charged, 10 weeks ago, for the killings of 77 people, most of them teenagers, it appeared the tiny Scandinavian nation was about to experience its own version of an U.S. trial-by-media-circus akin to the O.J. Simpson or Michael Jackson trials. Some 800 journalists from around the world descended on Oslo to write, broadcast, Tweet, debate and discuss every detail of the horrific case. 

But as Breivik’s lawyers and state prosecutors wrap made their closing arguments at the courthouse on Thursday, what was most surprising was how little attention it received. The final day of the trail was duly noted on international media outlets, as was the prosecutors’ call for Breivik to be found criminally insane so he can be sentenced to life in a psychiatric ward, and not the maximum 21-year prison sentence allowed by Norwegian law.

But there was no circus. Outside of Scandinavia, the end of the Breivik trial was reported off the front page and well down in most newscasts.

The Breivik trial spent an astonishing short time on the news cycle, given the extreme nature of his crimes – he killed 7 people with a car bomb before hunting down and shooting 69 more at a Labor party youth camp on a small Norwegian island. Breivik’s justification for his atrocities – that he was defending Norway from the evils of Islam and multiculturalism – seemed primed to deliver wall-to-wall news coverage and analysis.

Instead, after only a week of blanket coverage, most of the international media moved on. Even in Norway just five days into the trial some of the bigger local newspapers bumped Breivik off the front page in favor of other news. The weekly Morgenbladet cleverly commented on the country’s Breivik media fatigue by running a picture of him on their cover with his face covered up with the words ‘Look at me!’ ‘Look at me!’

Many in Norway criticized the decision to allow cameras into the courtroom – the first time ever for a criminal trial there. But in the end, the court and, perhaps surprisingly, the media, showed restraint. Relatives of Breivik’s victims who did not want to talk to the press wore buttons in court stating, in English, ‘No interviews, please' and, again perhaps surprisingly, they were left alone.

When the judges in the case issue their verdict -- expected on either July 20 or Aug. 24 – there will undoubtedly be a renewed media interest in Breivik and Norway’s “trial of the century.” But whatever the ruling, Norway’s justice system has managed to prevent being turned into a international media sideshow. Court TV, take note.